“Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds.
They are ecstasy machines. Follow your eyes to wherever they lead you…and the
world should begin to change for you.”
– Jerry Saltz
The triathlon part of this blog is kind of obvious from the pictures, and the fact that I am training for an Ironman.
I've thought a lot about how to talk about museums here. Not only do I want to share stuff about specific museums that I've visited , but I'd also like to use this blog as a resource for those who may be curious about museum studies and in pursuing a career in museums.
I think the best way to start is to tell you more about my journey with museums and becoming a museum professional.
As Short Round says in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, "Hang on lady, we going for a ride."
1977 was an amazing year!
I was in second grade. I had the best teacher ever--Mrs. Beaudoin! She was awesome! She was super nice, and she drove a yellow 1975 Corvette. With "T-tops".
In May that year, Star Wars was released. This blog could've been called, "Star Wars Geek Triathlete". I LOVE STAR WARS! I love all the movies, even the ok ones, like Solo and Episode I (curse you Jar Jar Binks). My family jumped in the car and saw the movie on a star filled night at a Drive-In movie theater. We watched Tie Fighters scream across the screen and appear to fly right off into space. I wanted to be Princess Leia! Well, I wanted to be Leia and Luke. Seriously, who doesn't want a light saber? My folks purchased all kinds of Star Wars items for me and my brother: toys, action figures, you name it. We helped make George Lucas a very wealthy man.
That infatuation was tempered by a trip my family would take later that summer. My grandmother, mother, brother and I headed to Chicago...this was probably my first trip out of state. We got up super early, jumped into Grandma's Ford LTD station wagon and headed to Illinois. We were going to see King Tut!
That year, the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibition made it to the United States. This worldwide traveling exhibition started in 1972 and continued to 1981. It started in London, went to the USSR, then it was our turn. It traveled the US for 3 years, visiting 6 museums. Our closest opportunity would be in Chicago that summer of 1977.
When you hear the term "Blockbuster". This is where it started! It was a phenomenon!!! Hundreds of thousands of people traveled to these museums for a chance to see the boy king's treasures that Howard Carter discovered back in 1922 in Egypt.
He even inspired a top ten hit -- King Tut by Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons.
The exhibition's first stop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC saw 836,000 people come to the exhibition in the 117 days it was there.
Remember...this is 1977. The country had just celebrated the Bicentennial, but the economy wasn't great. In fact we were still in the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Stop #2 was the Field Museum in Chicago.
This was years before computers and the internet. You could not make reservations for tickets. You needed to stand in line the day you wanted to visit and hope you got in. I remember getting there and seeing the line wrapped around the museum. And this was hours before the museum even opened. I remember the Greek Columns and the stairs leading to the entrance. I remember the sun starting to rise. And the line slowly moving.
We did not get a ticket to see Tut. But, we could visit the rest of the museum.
I saw dinosaurs. I saw other Egyptian artifacts. I recall dozens of butterflies behind glass, wings stretched out in amazing colors. I honestly don't remember everything I saw; I just know that I loved every second of it...even though I did not get to see King Tut. I forgot about Darth Vader. I no longer wanted to be a Jedi Knight. I wanted to work in a museum.
A few years passed, but that day in the museum stuck with me. I started to read more about history. I was still very active with sports, and I was trying to figure out how to work in a museum. Then, in 1981, it hit me...like a boulder rolling down a "ramp" in a dark cave.
You see movies are a big part of my life. I like them. A lot. There is something about them that gives me great joy, deep thoughts, huge emotional swings; all the things movie makers are hoping for.
It was always a treat to go to the movies. The year after The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo was in a different movie...but not as Han Solo. I needed to see this. Raiders of the Lost Ark told me exactly how to work in a museum, and have a great deal of adventure on the side...I would become an archaeologist!!!
For the next 6 years, I actually looked into different colleges that offered archaeology degrees! Knowing deep down that even though Indiana Jones was fiction, and the adventures he went on were highly unlikely, I thought that digging in the dirt in foreign lands, "sponsored" by a museum was the life for me. Teenagers know absolutely nothing!
Instead, I went to the same small, liberal arts college that my folks went to. I ended up a history major, but I took several classes in geology, anthropology and archaeology, because that was what I was going to be when I grew up--an archaeologist.
Sidebar: in retrospect, that school was the probably the best thing for a young, naive girl that needed to be kept an eye on academically. I would not have done well at a large school, where degrees in archaeology were offered. Thanks Mom and Dad.
Throughout college, I was continually asked, "what are you going to do with your history degree? Teach or go to law school?
Ummm, neither. I was going to work in a museum.
The more I was asked, the more I thought that I may want to consider one of these options--you know, as a backup plan. I did not see myself as a lawyer, at all! So, that left teaching. And I could do that, because, that's what Indiana Jones did when he wasn't out searching for long lost biblical treasures.
Here's the thing...on more than one occasion, I doubted myself. My high school guidance counselor was of no help. I told him exactly what I was looking for, and he didn't have any clue where to start to look for that type of program...either archaeology or even museum studies. Even my college advisor was useless. It wasn't until graduate school #1 that I heard the term "museum studies"...and it wasn't the program I was enrolled in.
I also wasn't cut out to be a teacher--at least not at the high school level. Let's face it, I was probably the only kid in a 1000 mile radius (or more) of my high school that loved every minute of high school history class. As much as I tried to make history "fun", the kids I was student teaching was having nothing of it.
So now what? What do I do to get into a museum? The archaeology thing was not realistic. There were no jobs for archaeologists. It was not at all what I thought, and it was more field work and lab time than museum time.
I was stuck. But I wasn't giving up. Grad school...that would help me...eventually.
Check back for part 2...